According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known historical meaning of the word information in English was the act of informing, or giving form or shape to the mind, as in education, instruction, or training. A quote from 1387 English text: "Five books come down from heaven for information of mankind." It was also used for an item of training, e.g. a particular instruction. "Melibee had heard the great skills and reasons of Dame Prudence, and her wise information and techniques." (1386)

The English word was apparently derived from the Latin accusative form (informationem) of the nominative (informatio): this noun is on its turn derived from the verb "informare" (to inform) in the sense of "to give form to the mind", "to discipline", "instruct", "teach": "Men so wise should go and inform their kings." (1330) Inform itself comes (via French) from the Latin verb informare, to give form to, to form an idea of. Furthermore, Latin itself already even contained the word informatio meaning concept or idea, but the extent to which this may have influenced the development of the word information in English is unclear.

As a final note, the ancient Greek word for form was "μορφή" (morf -> morphe, Morph) and also είδος eidos (kind, idea, shape, set), the latter word was famously used in a technical philosophical sense by Plato (and later Aristotle) to denote the ideal identity or essence of something (see Theory of forms). "Eidos" can also be associated with thought, proposition or even concept.

Information can be defined as a pattern, a combination of qualities that form a characteristic arrangement. This view assumes neither accuracy nor directly communicating parties, but instead assumes a separation between an object and its representation. Consider the following example: economic statistics represent an economy, however inaccurately. What are commonly referred to as data in computing, statistics, and other fields, are forms of information in this sense. The electro-magnetic patterns in a computer network and connected devices are related to something other than the pattern itself, such as text characters to be displayed and keyboard input. Signals, signs, and symbols are also in this category. On the other hand, according to semiotics, data is symbols with certain syntax and information is data with a certain semantic. Painting and drawing contain information to the extent that they represent something such as an assortment of objects on a table, a profile, or a landscape. In other words, when a pattern of something is transposed to a pattern of something else, the latter is information. This would be the case whether or not there was anyone to perceive it.